Dual diagnosis is a complex condition where mental health and substance abuse are intertwined. Whether you’re on this journey yourself or are supporting a loved one through their diagnosis and recovery, here we aim to explore what dual diagnosis is in more detail, steps for recognising dual diagnosis and share strategies to reduce the impact of dual diagnosis.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is when an individual experiences both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem at the same time. The combination of the two conditions can manifest in a series of ways and both drugs and alcohol and mental health can influence and interact with each other.

For example, someone suffering from depression may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope, and excessive substance use may lead to the development of certain mental health disorders.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that approximately 16% of UK adults have a common mental health disorder and 6% also suffer from a substance use disorder.

When it comes to dual diagnosis, conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are the most common mental health conditions, and alcohol, drugs and prescription medications are the most commonly experienced substance use disorders.

Polysubstance use is also common – this is where individuals suffering from mental health disorders use multiple substances.

Recognising Common Dual Diagnosis Symptoms

Just like mental health disorders and addiction, dual diagnosis can present in many ways. What’s more, it can affect individuals in varying ways too.

Certain individuals may be more likely to suffer from dual diagnosis including those with a history of trauma and those who have a family history of mental health and addiction. However, this does mean that every individual in these circumstances will receive a dual diagnosis.

Being aware of the common dual diagnosis symptoms, as listed below, can help you to get the right help and support fast.

Social Isolation

Those suffering from dual diagnosis often withdraw from social activities, and may even find it hard to keep existing friendships. This can lead to isolation which can either be a coping mechanism or a result of the stigma that is associated with substance abuse and mental health. If you notice someone you love becoming withdrawn, this could be a warning sign of dual diagnosis.

Mood Swings

Fluctuations in mood, including from high to low, and excessive anger and irritability can be common amongst those suffering from dual diagnosis too. These mood swings can be unpredictable and may be impacting other elements of someone’s life including their relationships, career and daily functioning.

Dual diagnosis also presents with symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can get worse with substance abuse and lead to a complex and hard to beat cycle of co-occurring symptoms.

Weight Changes

Changes in appearance, appetite and weight are common symptoms that someone is struggling with both mental health and substance abuse, as both conditions can affect eating habits. You may also notice that someone is taking less care of their overall health and the way they look, so appearance changes are one of the biggest symptoms of dual diagnosis.

Sleep Disturbances

Both substance abuse and dual diagnosis can affect sleep patterns, leading to either insomnia or excessive sleep. This can exacerbate both conditions further as individuals struggle with their mental health and use substances as a way to cope. This again can lead to a vicious cycle which is difficult to break and is a common dual diagnosis sign.

The Impact Of Dual Diagnosis On Treatment And Prognosis

Those with dual diagnosis can often face challenges in engaging with treatment as addressing both mental health and substance use requires a complex and expert strategy. What’s more, both issues simultaneously can actually hinder treatment as individuals may struggle to realise that they need help.

Studies also show that dual diagnosis is associated with the increased use of health services, including A&E visits and hospital admissions. This is because mental health and substance use can result in more complex healthcare needs.

Often, integrated treatment is required which is where both conditions are dealt with and treated at the same time. The complexity of both conditions can complicate recovery, however, potentially making it harder to diagnose and get the right help. This is why understanding and recognising common dual diagnosis symptoms early is essential for effective treatment and long-term outcomes.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Recovery from dual diagnosis is challenging but it can be done. It simply requires self-awareness and a comprehensive approach including:

  • Rehabilitation – Both inpatient and outpatient rehab programmes can be tailored to dual diagnosis, which provides individuals with a supported and structured environment for recovery while addressing both mental health and substance abuse disorders.
  • Therapy – This can either be provided as rehab addiction treatment or via community initiatives. Individual and group therapy sessions are essential for dual diagnosis treatment. Two of the most common include cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy.
  • Medication – Rehab professionals or your GP may prescribe certain medications to better manage mental health symptoms. However, careful consideration must be given to avoid any potential triggers and interactions with substances.
  • Local Support Groups – As with mental health and addiction, support groups can be very beneficial for those who are recovering from dual diagnosis. Not only does it provide a sense of community but it helps you to understand your condition and learn from those who have been in your shoes. In fact, engaging with people who are facing and have faced similar challenges can be very helpful and powerful.

Finding Help Today

If you or someone you care about is experiencing any of the common dual diagnosis symptoms mentioned above, then getting in touch with a medical professional is essential for effective intervention.

At Ocean Recovery, we’re here to support you on your journey to recovery. So if you have any questions about substance abuse and mental health or think you are suffering from co-occurring disorders, contact us today to explore personalised treatment options.

Together, we can help you regain control of your life and get onto the path of dual diagnosis recovery. In fact, we have helped so many people like you and you could be next – phone us on 0800 880 7596.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 14, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.